THE West Cork Schoolboys U14 Inter-League’s SFAI Kennedy Cup preparations remain on hold.
Covid-19 brought an unexpected stop to the WCSL’s 2019-2020 Munster Inter-League campaign. Shane Hurley’s squad were busily preparing for a provincial Plate final appearance when all activities ground to a halt.
Prior to that, the Munster Schoolboys League’s decision to come together and organise a competition for their Kennedy Cup squads proved a positive development. Up until 2020, the Kennedy Cup was the single SFAI tournament for the U14 age-grade.
A new provincial league added some much-needed impetus and regular, competitive games for teams preparing for the annual trip to Limerick.
The Covid-19 outbreak has resulted in schoolboys league players, managers, parents, and supporters staying in their respective homes throughout the country. The entire SFAI community is awaiting an update on whether the annual 32-team schoolboys tournament will take place at its regular home at the University of Limerick next June.
WCSL Kennedy Cup coach Shane Hurley told The Echo: “West Cork arranged a friendly against West Waterford East Cork (in Cork) shortly before all soccer activities were halted. It turned into a very competitive game between ourselves, this year’s Munster U14 Plate finalists, and the WWEC, who had finished ahead of us in the qualifying group.
“West Waterford were preparing for their own Inter-League final appearance. It proved a very useful workout, albeit a friendly, and a game we actually managed to win.
“The most pleasing thing from our point of view was that the friendly was one of West Cork’s best performances of a long season. A number of players, particularly some of the newcomers to the squad, had excellent games that day.
“Adam Lordan stood out at right back, with Ben McCarthy-Shields equally impressive in goal. Des Kenneally was another individual who played well. That friendly with West Waterford East Cork acted as a really important game in the build-up to our Plate final against Kerry.”
It proved a valuable period for Shane Hurley as the cogs were beginning to turn and new selection headaches forming as the FAI-qualified coach began the final stages of his side’s Kennedy Cup preparations.
Hurley and his players found out who their 2020 Munster U14 Inter-League Plate final opponents would be on the day of their WWEC friendly.
The final round of Munster Inter-League group games saw Cork head to South Tipperary requiring a victory to top the group and confirm the provincial and plate final participants.
The Leesiders achieved their goal and progressed to a meeting with the WWEC. That outcome also confirmed West Cork and Kerry as the Munster Plate finalists. Once the virus hit, it brought an immediate cessation to all FAI and SFAI activities, including the WCSL’s showdown with their rivals from across the border.
Hurley’s side were anxious to add to the Blackpool Cup trophy annexed the previous year, as well as maintaining momentum heading into the Kennedy Cup. The disappointment of not being able to compete for an SFAI trophy is mirrored by the squad’s concern about whether or not this year’s tournament will go ahead.
“We had just found out that Kerry were going to be our Plate final opponents before everything stopped a few days later,” Hurley said.
“Everything was in place and planned out for the weeks immediately after the final. Unfortunately, Covid-19 stopped our plans to extend our training sessions to two nights a week. We had also arranged a trip to Belfast to play a number of friendlies over the Easter holidays as part of our Kennedy Cup build-up.
“Everyone involved with the squad is remaining positive though. Right now, I am sending out training video clips to the players as we can’t train together, or the boys can’t meet up in smaller groups,” he said.
“Those clips include training and fitness videos to keep the lads ticking over during their time at home. I have also forwarded on bodyweight exercises that the lads can do without any equipment, and cardiovascular things to work on by themselves.
“As well as that, we are mixing things up by posting little skills videos and setting the lads individual challenges to keep them going. There are plenty of drills to go through, and where they don’t necessarily need someone with them to complete.
“It has been a case of mixing fun and competitive things together maybe twice a week and setting them challenges to add a bit of fun to the whole thing.”
At the time of writing, there is no official word from the SFAI on tournaments scheduled for later in the year.
The FAI and SFAI will obviously be guided by the HSE and the Government about what is feasible over the coming months.
It would be a shame for Schoolboys League players from all corners of the island to miss out on one of the most important years in their football development. Yet, in the current climate, staying safe and focusing on flattening the curve is far more important than walking out on the University of Limerick’s turf on SFAI Kennedy Cup finals day. Whenever that time comes, Shane Hurley and his squad will be ready to compete with the best schoolboys leagues in the country.
Everyone involved with the squad is remaining positive. I am sending out training video clips to the players.